By Gabe Bullard
I’ve never wanted anything less than I want a piece of chicken right now. I’m standing outside the Bardstown Road Buffalo Wild Wings at dusk on a Saturday. Sports fans and hungry people are going in, but I’m stuck outside, staring at the marquee.
It’s unusual for a chicken wing franchise to have a marquee. This one is small – the type of marquee that would’ve hung from an old movie house, where, in fact, it once did. Buffalo Wild Wings wasn’t originally built with a lighted piece of pie sticking out its doorway. This franchise was trucked in from headquarters, loaded in, then unfolded inside the old single-screen movie theater.
Succeeded by the multiplex, single screen theaters were once the only choice for movie fans who didn’t have cars or air conditioning. And, like the drive-in, they’re mostly extinct. The ones that remain are the bad undercover cops of architecture – no matter how they get dressed up, it’s obvious what’s underneath.
Bardstown Road has a chicken joint with a marquee, a Q’doba with a box office and a grocery store with a very awkward interior. These are the theaters that are still standing. And the ones I’m visiting tonight.
Buffalo Wild Wings, formerly the Baxter, formerly the Airway, is my first stop. I want to go in, but it’s too crowded inside and I really don’t want to eat or drink anything. I give up and walk southeast down Bardstown Road.
On the way to the next theater, I pass a storefront, packed to the windows with antiques – birdcages, books, china cabinets, desks. A few blocks down is a wine shop that’s being renovated. Next to that is a fairly modern looking apartment building. Now, I’m not a nostalgist. And I don’t want to live in any other time than my own. But I have a hard time appreciating many of the large buildings built after the Johnson administration. They look flimsy or lack the details and thoughtful design of their forebears.
As I walk, I wonder how the four razed theaters on my list of Highlands singleplexes used to look. The Bard, Highland/Shibboleth Hall, Highland Amusement Co. and the Savoy Airdome are all no more. The best resource I can find for old theaters, cinematreasures.org, doesn’t have much information on these. It does tell me there were dozens of American singleplexes named “Airdome,” but other than verifying the existence of seven theaters in the Highlands, the site isn’t much help.
After the wine shop and apartment building, I get to Mid City Mall and its modern multiplex. I go to the Baxter Avenue Theatres a lot – it’s convenient. I like stadium seating and digital sound, but, then again, I was raised with them. What makes Baxter different from the multiplexes of my youth is its location. It’s not in the suburbs. It has more screens than all of the neighborhood’s old theaters combined and doesn’t require a long drive ... a bad time in traffic on the way to the theater can ruin a movie in ways Michael Bay can’t yet imagine.
But multiplexes are evolutionary. Single-screen theaters were reptiles and we are now in the age of mammals. Surviving to become a new business is the equivalent of growing wings. That’s what the Cherokee theater did. It’s now Bombay International, on the corner of Bonnycastle and Bardstown. I’m thinking of buying a soda or maybe some liquor here. Either way, I go in. It’s probably the best-disguised former theater on Bardstown Road, and the fact that the checkout doesn’t look like a ticket counter is a triumph against architecture. I buy a pack of gum to reward the effort.
It’s dark and it’s Saturday night. I’d like to see a movie now, but I’ve already seen everything at the Baxter. I decide to hit the last standing former theater on my list and go home. It’s on the corner of Bardstown and Eastern in the Schuster Building – The Uptown Theater. Built in 1927 and closed in 1989, The Uptown outlasted every neighborhood theater in the city except one – The Vogue in St. Matthews.
An old picture of the Uptown on Wikipedia shows its marquee advertising a July 20th showing of “Orgy of the She Devils.” I suppose that’s one thing I want less right now than a piece of chicken.
The Uptown is now a Q’Doba that proudly says it never closes, at least not on weekends. Maybe it will close forever if a bigger burrito chain starts up – one that offers unlimited choices and colder air conditioning. Maybe that will happen, and maybe we’ll all drive 20 miles to go there.
I bet they’ll even serve chicken.